Chapter

Remaking Racial Signs: Activism and Photography in the Theater of the Sit-Ins

Elizabeth Abel

in Signs of the Times

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780520261174
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945869 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520261174.003.0009
Remaking Racial Signs: Activism and Photography in the Theater of the Sit-Ins

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Through carefully scripted and publicized acts of civil disobedience which were staged as a form of political theater, the protest movement finally succeeded in bringing down the Jim Crow signs. This chapter explores activism and photography in the movie theater of the sit-ins, focusing on the daily confrontations between the white waitresses who instantiated and enforced the color line and the African American students who persisted in challenging it. The standoff was a compelling subject for photojournalists, who sacrificed norms of journalistic objectivity to stand behind the students, literally and figuratively, challenging the social gaze that was funneled through the waitress with the partisan perspective of their cameras. This perspective was not monolithic, however, and diverse visions of the struggle's goals and consequences were rendered through the differential treatment of the male and female protesters. These gendered pictures try out alternative visions of desegregation: one emphasized color blindness, the other the recognition and revaluation of difference.

Keywords: Jim Crow signs; sit-ins; civil disobedience; white waitresses; African American students; desegregation; color blindness; activism; photography; movie theater

Chapter.  17856 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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